Taking a PhD outside of the lab and lecture hall

In this weeks penultimate PhD post, we venture outside of labs and lecture halls to explore the options available outside of the traditional academic pathway. If you are considering your options post-PhD and aren’t sure that academia is for you, read on to find out where your degree could take you.

More than ever, PhD students are seeking employment outside of academia. The reasons for this are far wide ranging. Concerns about the difficulties in obtaining a permanent academic post are causing larger numbers of doctoral graduates and early career academics to seek work outside of a University setting.

Historically, there has been a stigma around PhD graduates seeking work outside of the institution. People undertake PhDs for many reasons and many seek the career path of a researcher or academic at the end of their degree. A PhD trains you to become a researcher and following this career path can be viewed as the natural progression. In addition to this, leaving academia after three or more years within an institution can be unsettling, because it becomes a comfort zone.

In the instance that securing a post within academia is unsuccessful, PhD graduates may feel a sense of failure and be discouraged. Viewing an academic role as the ultimate end-goal of a PhD has resulted in other options being viewed as second best, which detracts from the success and achievement of completing a PhD. Sometimes there can be concerns that holding a PhD means that you are only qualified to be a researcher, and you aren’t eligible for other roles. However, searching for employment outside of academia does not mean that you are not good enough to be a researcher or that research is the only career path available to you. In fact, it is likely that your skills as a researcher will be highly beneficial in a wide range of roles in different sectors, where you can use your expertise in a different setting.

Where can I look for jobs outside of academia?

To avoid being overwhelmed at the range and number of opportunities outside of academia that you may consider after your PhD, it is important to research and narrow down your search criteria. Some ways to do this are:

  • Identifying routes that other academics in your field have taken outside of academia. Using your networks and contacts to ask questions and seek advice.
  • Taking a reign check of your skills.  What do you enjoy doing? Which areas of research have you found most interesting? What are you good at? This will help you match up your interests and strengths to a role.
  • Use LinkedIn to search for jobs requiring a specific skill, such as research, writing, or data management.
  • Shortlist organisations relating to your field that you would be interested in working with.

Which jobs can I apply for with a PhD?

PhDs enable you to acquire “MANY” transferrable skills that are valued by employers. Different roles will be more suited to certain subject areas, so you need to ensure that the role and organisation matches up to your interests, strengths, and core values. For example, if you enjoyed collecting and analysing data during your PhD, but didn’t enjoy presentations as much, you’ll be less suited to a people-facing role as opposed to a position in data management. Below are some pointers towards where to look for jobs outside of academia:

Interests

You undertook a PhD in your specific topic because you find that topic interesting. When starting to look for jobs outside of academia, think about organisations or sectors that match up to your interests. These may be:

  • Societies or associations: It’s likely that you attended or took part in a conference held by a society or association during your doctorate. Sometimes these organisations may have a role in outreach or research.
  • Cultural organisations: foundations, museums, or trusts relating to your research area or project.
  • Charities or NGOs may offer roles relating to policy development or research around various themes or issues.

Knowledge

A PhD equips you with knowledge of how research works in Higher Education, from the viability of projects, awarding of grants, publishing and more. This knowledge can be translated into roles with:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is comprised of several councils responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England.
  • Research Support in a University where you may be managing grant applications and funding, supporting with the Research Excellent Framework (REF), and measuring impact amongst other activities. These opportunities are normally listed on individual institution websites.

Specific Skills

Over the course of a PhD, you may specialise or become familiar with specific technical knowledge or equipment. This may be using software for data analysis, implementing and designing processes and procedures or using certain materials or equipment.

  • Technical: If you’ve done a STEM based PhD, opportunities to work in industry can be far-reaching, from laboratory work to clinical trials management.
  • Equipment: Knowledge around how to use specific software or equipment can provide an opening into employment. Perhaps your project specialised in data analysis through a particular programme? Maybe you are an expert in a certain piece of laboratory equipment? Perhaps your project required extensive archive work? All of these elements can be a useful starting point to begin your search.
  • Writing: By the end of your PhD, you will have completed a thesis of at least sixty to one hundred thousand words. It is likely that you will have published articles in journals, or written chapters or book reviews. As a result, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of what makes a well written piece of academic research. Roles in academic publishing, or indeed the wider publishing industry, will utilise these skills and expertise.

Some other sectors that may provide roles for PhD graduates include research organisations such as Think Tanks, or the Civil Service where research and writing skills are essential.

If you are considering work outside of academia after a PhD, be confident that you have an array of valuable skills to provide you the foundation to a fulfilling career. Next week we will be rounding up this mini-series with a final post on how to construct an academic CV. More often than not, PhD students may have two CVs for academic and non-academic jobs. Creating an academic CV is useful not only when applying for jobs within academia, but also creating a useful inventory of your achievements, which you can then apply to jobs outside of academia too.

Domonique Davies is a full-time PhD student in the School of English Literature and Languages at the University of Reading. Her project, part-funded by the Reading Regional Bursary, looks at the relationships between 20th century poetry and the current ecological crisis. She works part-time at the University of Reading Careers Service as a Careers Information and Events Assistant. 

Permanent link to this article: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/careers/taking-a-phd-outside-of-the-lab-and-lecture-hall/

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